Tag Archives: brain

6 Steps to sharpen your brain – Harvard

At the risk of repeating myself I have had three cases of dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease in my family. They occurred on both my mother’s and father’s side, so I am totally paying attention to anything that might help to preserve my cognitive powers. I turned 78 in January. Here is Harvard Healthbeat on the subject.

Everyone has the occasional “senior moment.” Maybe you’ve gone into the kitchen and can’t remember why, or can’t recall a familiar name during a conversation. Memory lapses can occur at any age, but aging alone is generally not a cause of cognitive decline. When significant memory loss occurs among older people, it is generally not due to aging but to organic disorders, brain injury, or neurological illness.

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Studies have shown that you can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia with some basic good health habits:

  • staying physically active
  • getting enough sleep
  • not smoking
  • having good social connections
  • limiting alcohol to one drink a day
  • eating a balanced diet low in saturated and trans fats.

Certain health conditions that can impair cognitive skills include diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, depression, and hypothyroidism. If you have any of these health issues, you can help protect your memory by following your doctor’s advice carefully.

Memory changes can be frustrating, but the good news is that, thanks to decades of research, you can learn how to get your mind active. There are various strategies we can use to protect and improve memory. Here are several you might try.

1. Keep learning

A higher level of education is associated with better mental functioning in old age. Experts think that advanced education may help keep memory strong by getting a person into the habit of being mentally active. Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Many people have jobs that keep them mentally active, but pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill, or volunteering for a project at work that involves a skill you don’t usually use can function the same way and help improve memory. Continue reading

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Can Exercise Help Me Learn?

“Exercise helps you to learn on three levels: first, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus,” so says Spark, the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. Author John J. Ratey, M.D., is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Besides, Spark, he also wrote A User’s Guide to the Brain among other books.

The hippocampus plays a major role in the consolidation of information from long term memory and short term memory. So, clearly, exercise plays an important role for seniors who are concerned about their memory failing in their latter years.

One distinction needs to be made here. You can’t learn difficult material while you are exercising because blood is shunted away from the prefrontal cortex and this hampers your executive function. Dr. Ratey quotes a study of college students who were working out on treadmills and exercise bikes at a high rate. They performed poorly on tests of complex learning. “However blood flow shifts back almost immediately after you finish exercising, and this is the perfect time to focus on a project that demands sharp thinking and complex analysis.”

He enumerates an experiment that was done on 40 adults aged 50 to 64. They were asked to do one 35 minute treadmill session at either 60 percent or 70 percent of maximum heart rate. Afterwards, they were asked to list alternative uses for common objects, like a newspaper. It is used for reading, but can be used to wrap fish, line a bird cage, etc. Half of the group watched a movie and the other half exercised. They were tested three times, before the session, immediately after the session and then 20 minutes later. The results of the movie watchers showed no change, but the runners improved their processing speed and cognitive flexibility after just one session. “Cognitive flexibility is an important executive function that reflects our ability to shift thinking and to produce a steady flow of creative thoughts and answers as opposed to a regurgitation of the usual responses. The trait correlates with high performance levels in intellectually demanding jobs.” The doctor recommends going for a short, intense run at lunchtime ahead of an important brain-storming session at work.

spark-book I have enjoyed Dr. Ratey’s book and recommend it to readers of the blog. You can get a look at the book on the Amazon website and purchase it from there if you like it.

As regular readers know, I lost an aunt to Alzheimer’s and my mother suffered from dementia in her final years. I am a total believer in this exercise-learning hypothesis. If I don’t ride my bike every day, I manage a five mile walk, climb 30 flights of stairs, or take a trip to the health club. I ain’t sittin’ around doin’ nothin’.

I have repeated the phrase, Use it or Lose it time and again in this blog. In this case, using the body promotes healthy mental processes as well as good physical results.

Tony

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2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Submits Scientific Report

Eat less; move more; live longer has been the mantra of this blog for years. I am always gratified to see those sentiments echoed elsewhere. The latest version comes from the government of all places and it dwells particularly on the aspect of exercise.

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The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, a group of nationally recognized experts in physical activity and public health, has submitted its recommendations to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary and disbanded.

The 2018 Scientific Report reinforces the recommendations included in the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines that physical activity reduces the risk of a large number of diseases and conditions. In addition to disease prevention benefits, the Scientific Report includes findings that regular physical activity provides a variety of benefits that help people sleep better, feel better, and perform daily tasks more easily. The Committee also found that some benefits happen immediately, on the same day a single bout of physical activity is performed.

Expanding on findings from the Advisory Committee Scientific Report, 2008, the 2018 Committee identified health benefits of physical activity that had not been previously identified including:

Improved bone health and weight status for children ages 3 to 5
Improved cognitive function for children ages 6 to 13
Decreased risk of certain cancers, dementia, and excessive weight gain for adults
Improved quality of life and sleep for adults
Reduced feelings of anxiety and depression in adults
Additional benefits for specific population including older adults, women who are pregnant or postpartum, and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions

Additionally, the Committee found strong or moderate evidence that more time spent in sedentary behavior is related to greater all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality and incidence, type 2 diabetes incidence, and the incidence of certain cancers.

Get Involved: The Department has published the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report online and the public is encouraged to view the Scientific Reportand provide written comments to the federal government at https://health.gov/paguidelines/pcd. The comment period will be open until 11:59 pm E.T. April 2, 2018.

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Brain Learns to Hit the Repeat Button in Pursuit of Pleasure

In a scientific first, researchers have observed in mice how the brain learns to repeat patterns of neural activity that elicit the all-important feel-good sensation. Until today, the brain mechanisms that guide this type of learning had not been measured directly, according to Neuroscience News.

This research offers key insights into how brain activity is shaped and refined as animals learn to repeat behaviors that evoke a feeling of pleasure. The findings also point to new strategies for targeting disorders characterized by abnormal repetitive behaviors, such as addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD.

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This image is an artistic interpretation of the authors’ work. Within a myriad of many pixel-like neurons, an obvious pattern emerges from more active red pixels and from parallel, less-active blue pixels: the letters corresponding to the word reward. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Gil Costa.

The study, led by researchers at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute, the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown and the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley), was published in Science.

“It’s no secret that we derive pleasure from doing things we enjoy, such as playing our favorite video game,” said Rui Costa, DVM, PhD, senior author and the associate director and CEO of Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute. “These results reveal that the brain learns which activity patterns lead to feel-good sensations, and reshapes itself to more efficiently reproduce those patterns.” Continue reading

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6 Habits that Damage the Brain – Infographic

Because both Alzheimer’s and dementia run in my family, I am acutely concerned about keeping my brain healthy as well as anything that might damage it.

On the positive side, check out my Page Important Facts About Your Brain (and Exercise Benefits) as well as Important Facts About Brain Fitness.

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The final item names smoking. To learn more about the damage smoking does to your body and your general health, check out my Page How Many Ways Does Smoking Harm You?

Tony

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Dim light dims our brains – Study

Regular readers know I do a lot of work on the brain, my brain. Family members have suffered from both Alzheimer’s and dementia. At the age of 78, I want to continue enjoying my life and mental capacity.

Now comes Michigan State University with info on how light affects our mental functioning.

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Spending too much time in dimly lit rooms and offices may actually change the brain’s structure and hurt one’s ability to remember and learn, indicates groundbreaking research by Michigan State University neuroscientists.

The researchers studied the brains of Nile grass rats (which, like humans, are diurnal and sleep at night) after exposing them to dim and bright light for four weeks. The rodents exposed to dim light lost about 30 percent of capacity in the hippocampus, a critical brain region for learning and memory, and performed poorly on a spatial task they had trained on previously.

The rats exposed to bright light, on the other hand, showed significant improvement on the spatial task. Further, when the rodents that had been exposed to dim light were then exposed to bright light for four weeks (after a month-long break), their brain capacity – and performance on the task – recovered fully.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is the first to show that changes in environmental light, in a range normally experienced by humans, leads to structural changes in the brain. Americans, on average, spend about 90 percent of their time indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Continue reading

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Send your brain a Valentine

We are sending our loved ones greetings cards and chocolates next week. Let’s not forget that two pound organ in our heads that keeps the show on the road. 

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Here are 10 tips from the Alzheimer’s Association to help protect your brain from decline  as you age. Please don’t wait till you are in your 60’s to start thinking about your brain health. The sooner your pay attention to it the better off you will be. 
1 Break a sweat
Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.

I write about exercise and the brain regularly. Check out my Page – Important facts about your brain (and exercise benefits) to learn more about this. 

2 Hit the books
Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online. Continue reading

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The impact of exercise on the brain

On the premise that one picture is worth 1000 words, here are 2000 words worth of pictures. Regular readers know I feel strongly about the positive impact of exercise on the brain. If you would like to read further on it, check out my Page – Important facts about your brain (and exercise benefits).

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Tony

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Aerobic exercise may ease some Alzheimer’s symptoms

Regular readers how focused I am on the connection between exercise and the brain. I lost three family members to Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of dementia. And, I just turned 78 two weeks ago. So, I was most interested in this report on the benefits of aerobic exercise on Alzheimer’s symptoms. When you finish reading, please check out my Page – Important facts about  your brain (and exercise benefits.)

Alzheimer’s Disease is a brain disorder that destroys memory and thinking skills over time. It is the most common form of dementia in older adults. There is presently no cure for the condition, though treatment options are available. Today, some 5.3 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s Disease, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. The number of older adults who will develop AD is expected to more than triple by 2050.

Geriatrics experts have suggested that exercising can improve brain health in older adults. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommendations for how much older adults should exercise. They suggest that older adults perform 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise (such as brisk walking), 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic training, or a combination of the two types. The WHO also recommends older adults perform muscle-strengthening exercises on at least two or more days a week. Continue reading

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Miles between Davis and Mozart: Brains of Jazz and Classical Musicians Work Differently

Music is one of the great joys of my life. I have a bluetooth speaker on my bike and I listen to music on my daily rides. My iPhone has about 15 gigabytes of jazz, classics and classic rock so I have the entire spectrum available. Consuming music, however, is not the same as producing it.

Different processes occur in the brains of jazz and classical pianists while playing the same piece of music, researchers report in Neuroscience News.

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Keith Jarret, world-famous jazz pianist, once answered in an interview when asked if he would ever be interested in doing a concert where he would play both jazz and classical music: “No, that’s hilarious. […] It’s like a chosen practically impossible thing […] It’s [because of] the circuitry. Your system demands different circuitry for either of those two things.” Where non-specialists tend to think that it should not be too challenging for a professional musician to switch between styles of music, such as jazz and classical, it is actually not as easy as one would assume, even for people with decades of experience.

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9 Rules for Brain-Healthy Eating – Infographic

I don’t know what the Amen Clinic is, but this is a wonderful infographic of foods the help your brain function better.

Don’t forget that, like your body, your brain benefits from physical exercise, too. To read further on that, check out my Page – Important Facts About Your Brain (and Exercise Benefits).

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Tony

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Lack of Sleep Boosts Levels of Alzheimer’s Protein – Study

I wrote about the dangers of sleep deprivation earlier this week. Here is the opening paragraph of that post: Regular readers know that I am an old man and very highly value a good night’s sleep. That is not the way I felt 20 years ago when I was in the working world. In those days I felt strongly that sleep was an intrusion on my life and activities and resented having to do it. I got a little wiser as the years went by. Please check out my Page – How important is a good night’s sleep? for significantly more details on this very important aspect of living a long healthy life.

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Have you resolved to take better care of yourself in the new year? Here’s a relatively painless way to do it: Catch a few more zzz’s every night. A third of American adults don’t get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention..

Chronic poor sleep has been linked to cognitive decline, and a new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis explains why: As a wakeful brain churns away through the night, it produces more of the Alzheimer’s protein amyloid beta than its waste-disposal system can handle. Levels of the protein rise, potentially setting off a sequence of changes to the brain that can end with dementia.

“This study is the clearest demonstration in humans that sleep disruption leads to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease through an amyloid beta mechanism,” said senior author Randall Bateman, MD, the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Professor of Neurology. “The study showed that it was due to overproduction of amyloid beta during sleep deprivation.” Continue reading

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Why sleep deprivation affects each of us differently

Regular readers know that I am an old man and very highly value a good night’s sleep. That is not the way I felt 20 years ago when I was in the working world. In those days I felt strongly that sleep was an intrusion on my life and activities and resented having to do it. I got a little wiser as the years went by. Please check out my Page – How important is a good night’s sleep? for significantly more details on this very important aspect of living a long healthy life.

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Losing sleep in favor of some good holiday fun a few times each year is nothing to worry about, but chronic sleep deprivation can have adverse health effects. Some of us are affected more than others, however, and new research helps us understand why.

For some of us, it may be harder to perform certain cognitive tasks after a sleepless night.

With 50 to 70 million adults in the United States having a “sleep or wakefulness disorder,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider sleep deprivation a “public health concern.”

Sleep loss is especially alarming given its status as a significant risk factor for traffic accidents and medical mishaps, as well as posing a danger to one’s health.

Insufficient sleep could increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and cancer, among others conditions.

Cognitively, sleep deprivation has a wide range of adverse effects. In fact, the CDC report that 23.2 percent of U.S. adults aged 20 and above have trouble concentrating, and another 18.2 percent say that they have trouble remembering things as a result of losing sleep. Continue reading

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How to age more slowly

Here is further information on the goal and idea of living a long life with a functioning brain throughout.

Tony

True Strange Library

Centenarians reach age 100 because they age more slowly. Genetics play a part in resisting damage that accumulatesover time, but there are things anyone can do to slow the aging process and improve health.

According to Israeli physician Nir Barzilai of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York:

“There is no pattern. The usual recommendations for a healthy life — not smoking, not drinking, plenty of exercise, a well-balanced diet, keeping your weight down — they apply to us average people. But not to them. Centenarians are in a class of their own.” …

“Today’s changes in lifestyle do in fact contribute to whether someone dies at the age of 85 or before age 75.

But in order to reach the age of 100, you need a special genetic make-up. These people age differently. Slower. They end up dying of the same diseases…

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HOW DOES THE BRAIN STORE & PROCESS MEMORIES?

Regular readers know what a big fan I am of the brain and its function in our daily life. As a 77 year old, I am also supremely interested in keeping mine functioning into these, my later, years. Check out my Page Important facts about your brain (and exercise benefits.

Tony

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How Does The Brain Store & Process Memories?Every sight, smell, sound, touch, and specific memory is stored in the recesses of your mind—but what parts of your brain store specific types of sensory data? Read on to learn more about where your brain stores these memories and which parts of your brain control specific functions.

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Exercise increases brain size, new research finds

Here is another source of the same facts I have been reporting in this blog for some years now. Your brain gets as much benefit from your cardiovascular exercise as your body.

Aerobic exercise can improve memory function and maintain brain health as we age, a new Australian-led study has found.

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In a first of its kind international collaboration, researchers from NICM and the Division of Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester in the UK examined the effects of aerobic exercise on a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is critical for memory and other brain functions.

Brain health decreases with age, with the average brain shrinking by approximately five per cent per decade after the age of 40.

Studies in mice and rats have consistently shown that physical exercise increases the size of the hippocampus but until now evidence in humans has been inconsistent. (my emphasis)

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